So, that's it? Really? Maybe it's just me, but it seems that in this day and age people expect more from a port of an arcade game than just the arcade game. Twelve years ago SNK could get away with this sort of thing. While home consoles struggled to put more than 32 colors on screen at once without major framerate issues, the Neo-Geo offered lavish arcade-quality graphics for a paltry 200 dollars per game. Then something strange happened. Or didn't happen, really. As other companies moved into the third dimension and embraced new videogame technology, SNK chugged along, producing the same sprite-based shooting and fighting games that had long been their trademark. Fighting games, if they're any good at all, have the replayability built right into them—side-scrolling shooters (which generally play the same way each time) need something more to keep the attention of an audience now used to seeing games with estimated play times that rarely drop below two digits—something that Metal Slug 4&5 sorely lacks.
That's not to say that the Metal Slugs contained in this two-pack aren't good games. No, they're nearly flawless in their design—from the beautiful graphics to the tight controls and an extremely varied well-balanced arsenal, these games are the ultimate evolution (to date) of a genre that has gone fundamentally unchanged since it was created twenty years ago with the game Contra. Every detail of the game is brought to life with fantastic character animation—each game features dozens of unique enemies, each with a number of different death animations, so the various types of massacring the player is asked to do always seems fresh for the entire length of the games. Although this is probably helped by the fact that, even considering limited branching paths, each game is no more than 50 minutes long.
While that's an incredibly short play length by console standards, it's an eternity in arcade game terms, and make no mistake about it, these are arcade games, through and through. If the short length weren't enough of a clue, then the boss fights certainly should be. I suppose I've been lulled into a false sense of security by modern game design, which (at its best) goes out of its way to find the balance between challenge and fairness in boss fights—I can't remember the last time I had to replay a boss fight more than two or three times. Even by classic arcade standards, the 12 bosses that appear across these two games are evil, sadistic bastards, carved from the brimstone of hell itself with one purpose in mind—to steal as many quarters as possible from unsuspecting gamers. If I were actually being asked to spend money to defeat some of these characters it's doubtful whether I'd actually have finished either of these games. Being given free and unlimited continues makes the difficulty level a little easier to swallow.
As sequels to the Metal Slug franchise, these games acquit themselves quite nicely—fans of the series will no doubt appreciate the new vehicle and level designs, and the fact that now, in addition to the frequent option of playing as mummies, one level offers players the opportunity to become zombies possessed of a singularly disgusting special attack. As well-designed as the games are, though, I couldn't help but feel that there really isn't enough here to justify a release. Other companies have realized just how limited the shooter gameplay is and have come up with plenty of ways to stretch their discs out to 'Feature Length'. Mini-games, time attack modes, unlockable characters and weapons, boss-fight-only modes… all of these have successfully expanded the length and replayability of other such limited titles. It's to these titles' discredit that they don't feature anything of the sort. Even the most basic extra, an art gallery—which would seem like a natural addition, given the series famously excellent art—is nowhere to be found.
Perhaps the strangest thing of all is that the two games come on separate discs—almost as if the company had intended to release them as two different titles, but realized at the last minute that they just wouldn't be seen as a decent value on their own without any bells or whistles. While I always appreciate getting two things for the price of one, the sad fact is that without anything to pad out the length, Metal Slug 4&5 is really just a rental at best. For anyone but die-hard fans of the franchise or genre, these two games just aren't worth the price of one.
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